By BRADEN LAMMERS
The first hole was drilled Monday into the bank of the Ohio River marking the unofficial start to construction for the new downtown Interstate 65 span that is part of the Ohio River Bridges Project.
“It’s exciting,” said Kentucky Transportation Cabinet Project Manager Andy Barber. “It’s the first step toward construction.”
Walsh Design Build Team drilled a test shaft Monday that will be the basis for what construction crews will eventually use to build the permanent piers that will hold up the planned bridge that is part of the downtown corridor for the bridges project. Kentucky is completing the downtown portion of the Ohio River Bridges Project, which includes a new I-65 downtown bridge, approaches from Indiana and Kentucky and the reconstruction of Spaghetti Junction in Louisville.
Walsh Construction Project Manager Max Rowland explained the purpose for digging the test shaft 50 feet into the ground, 30 feet deep into the rock and 7 1/2 feet in diameter into the ground below the Ohio River.
“This is a special shaft that has to be built separate from the construction,” he said. “What we’ll do is we’ll use it to test our design assumptions that are going to be used to design the shafts for the final structure.”
Once the test pier is installed, Walsh and the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet will test the pier to ensure it holds the amount of weight it is designed to carry.
“You’re testing the strength of the pier, the ultimate adequacy, durability and safety of the piers — that’s what’s going to hold up the bridge once we get to construction,” Barber said.
Rowland added that the construction crews and engineers won’t just be testing the capacity for weight the pier will hold.
“We’ll also be testing in a lateral direction to simulate if a barge would hit the pier,” he said.
Before the pier can be tested, crews will drill the hole near the Indiana bank of the river, lift reinforcing steel into the hole, pour the shaft with concrete and then wait for the concrete to harden. The entire process will take about two weeks.
“Once the concrete has got its strength, then we can actually start the testing,” Rowland said.
The pier started Monday will be the only test pier constructed, if there are no issues, and Barber said that the decision was made to drill the test pier on the Jeffersonville side of the Ohio River because the rock on the Indiana side is a lot more shallow. If there are no issues with the test pier, crews will begin drilling the permanent piers for the bridge.
Rowland said crews will begin building piers from the Indiana and Kentucky sides of the river and eventually meet in the middle. Each of the permanent piers will extend at least 30 feet into the rock and some may be as deep as 90 feet below the water, according to the project’s planners.
A total of five piers — which include four shafts to be drilled for each pier — will be placed in the water. A total of four piers will be along the respective shorelines that will hold up the new bridge.
Construction is still expected to start July 1 and is still on schedule, Rowland said.